Monday, February 2, 2009

Half Book Reviews

As in reviews of books I haven't finished yet, but have me thinking so much I need to write about them.

I'm reading a book that I didn't want to read. It landed on my desk (while I was away, sneaky) sporting a post-it with my name in big letters. An email arrived shortly thereafter, informing me that I needed to have read the book before an all-day meeting coming up in just a few days. All this combined to make me feel resistant to opening the cover and I usually am thrilled when I get a new book. The book is titled The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner.

Now that I'm halfway through (I'm such a reader I can't NOT read an assigned book) I am fascinated and thoroughly engrossed. I do feel the title is completely unfortunate. It implies that the book is going to bemoan the difference in test scores among American students and their counterparts in China and India, a la 2 Million Minutes.

Instead, Wagner efficiently describes some of the biggest flaws in education today and then goes on to actually detail a plan for fixing them. More interestingly, Wagner focuses on schools that most Americans would describe as working. Successful as in suburban public schools and expensive private schools with well-educated and well-paid parent populations. Schools that send almost all their graduates to college.

In one section, Wagner criticizes the formulas for writing that students are taught, then use to get 4's and 5's on AP tests, by pointing out that once students get beyond high school they will not be asked to write for 25 minutes on a topic they've never seen. I recently Diigo'd a page on the UNC writing center website that tells students to unlearn the 5 paragraph essay. I would take it a step further and contrast formula writing with, well, anything actually published that people read voluntarily. I'll never forget one of my professors telling me "don't assign anything you won't want to read in 72 versions."

At the moment, I'm deep into Wagner's thoughts on teacher education and improvement of instruction. Many teachers will be uncomfortable with what Wagner says, but he's right when he says that "many teachers and principals still think of themselves as independent subcontractors." He has some interesting ideas about improving instruction that involve videotapes of lessons and constructive, analytic discussion. Sounds intense, frightening, and productive.

The other book that I'm halfway through is Readercide by Kelly Gallagher. Gallagher argues that schools and teachers have destroyed students enjoyment of reading by simultaneously over and under teaching reading, then testing students within an inch of their lives.

I'm not the only one blogging about this important book right now. Bill Ferriter has the entire book available for download and hosted an interview and voicethread conversation with Gallagher. So, instead of going on, I'll just say that reading Readicide is making me really sad and angry for children who deserve better.

On a final note, I found a website that evaluates the reading level of a blog! Not sure what formula they are using, but I was glad to know that my blog was written at a high school level.

blog readability test

TV Reviews

1 comment:

Bill Farren said...

Hi Sarah: Thanks for pointing out Readercide and Ferriter's info about it. Looks very interesting. I can't help but notice how too many kids just hate reading. Seems like we overteach, overtalk & worksheet it to death. Why not just point them (suggest) to good lit and help them, if need be, read it? Let the story (they chose) speak for itself. Seems too easy and not schooly enough, I guess.